Thursday, December 29, 2011

Off to Turkey

One last, quick post. Tomorrow I fly to Turkey to apartment shop and knock on more doors for employment ideas. Also will be seeing some good friends. Until I return, Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Review (Antiquities Edition) First and Second Maccabees

Growing up in the protestant evangelical persuasion means the Apocrypha might as well have meant "Apostate." I'd never read any of its books, even though some of the history it contains is relevant to understanding New Testament Jewish culture. In honor of Hanukkah this year, I decided to read 1 and 2 Maccabees for the first time. I learned a lot. 

1 Maccabees was apparently written in Hebrew (wikipedia), though the only surviving text is Greek. 2 Maccabees (wikipedia) is believed to be entirely of Greek authorship. Both focus on the liberation of Jews living in modern-day Palestine during the 2nd century B.C. 1 Maccabees is longer and covers many more events in detail.  2 Maccabees moves more quickly and focuses on a four-year period. 

They both read like a combination of the movies Braveheart and 300, in fact I can see how these books could have inspired certain scenes in both films. It reads like most men want the Bible to-- brave warriors standing up for God and slaughtering their oppressive enemies, liberating their people, and having their names echo in eternity.  I can imagine that Mel Gibson was heavily influenced by the books, as further evidenced that he is making a movie about Judah Maccabee.

The conclusion of the movie Hoosiers features a locker-room scene with two pastors leading the heroic underdogs in a pre-game devotional. The senior pastor quotes (unattributed) from 1 Maccabees 3:19:
"For the victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of an host; but strength cometh from heaven."

The events of the books are believed to be prophesied in Daniel 11 & 12, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes rules Jerusalem and outlaws the Judaic laws, desecrates the temple, and massacres many Jews.  This prophecy is repeated in the New Testament as a foreshadowing of the Antichrist.  The horrors that the Jews experienced are gruesomely detailed.  In 165 B.C., Judah Maccabee leads a revolt and kills Antiochus and various others who would take his place.  The temple is cleansed, the idols torn down, and the sacrifice restored.  This is where we get Hanukkah from, although the legend of the oil miracle is not recorded in the books.  1 Maccabees records the Jews' diplomatic outreach to a growing Rome while seeking protection from their neighbors.  It records the in-fighting among the various post-Alexandrian factions and Israel being stuck in the middle. Eventually, Judah Maccabee is killed before an army of 20,000 invading Assyrians. 

Jesus would have celebrated the Feast of Dedication (John 10) and it seems that many of His followers were expecting him to be the ultimate Judah Maccabee against the Roman Empire, instead of the Lamb of God being led to the slaughter. Reading 1 & 2 Maccabees helps me understand the expectations and disappointment of Jesus' followers. 

Knowing that these books were included in the King James Bible and other early texts circulated also helps me understand a little of their influence on Christian culture through the centuries. We get various ideas and idioms in our English language from the Apocrypha via the King James (I read the books in their original King James. I recommend finding another translation). I would say the books also influenced whoever wrote the Book of Mormon, much of it reads very similarly.

In all, I recommend reading these as essential reading for anyone interested in learning more about Jewish and Middle Eastern history.  I doubt you can really understand Hanukkah without them.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

To my son on his third Christmas

Dear Elias,
This is Christmas #3 for you, and hopefully the last one in Missouri.  We've almost completed an Advent tree, for which you've hung the ornaments after sitting patiently through the stories. 

You've also enjoyed playing with a Hanukkah dreidel and eating gelt (chocolate coins) because I was inspired by your Highlights magazine to incorporate that into our holiday as well. 

This picture pretty much sums up a good bit of your interests right now.

Mrs. B is your best friend and she is talking to your Aflac duck. You enjoy your various stuffed animals conversing with one another.  You also enjoy Spiderman, what little you've seen of him.  You like singing the 1960s cartoon theme song, appropriate because this was a popular meme in the U.S. in 2011. Your other pairs of pajamas are mostly Thomas-related.  

You do a few things that are worth recording for posterity. We scold you for them but I inwardly smile because it shows you have some natural obtuseness.  When we say "Right now!" you reply "Right later!"  When we say "put it right here," you say "put it left here."  When I say "stand up" you say "sit down."  You almost always do what we say so it's hard to categorize your responses as outright defiance. But it shows you cleverly know your opposites want to be your own person. You often will say "no" to something you know is a good idea because it was suggested to you rather than you coming up with it on your own.  

God is showing us some of the ways He has made you special.  You like to be in perpetual motion, whether it be piggybacking on daddy, spinning upside down, or driving your big wheel down the flimsy ramp we made for you in the front yard. You love music, whether it be listening to your Bible verse CDs during nap time, or watching Lawrence Welk reruns on Saturdays, or singing with us at church. You still request to have "room time" in the mornings where you play and listen to your children's music in your room. 

You have a proclivity to memorize things.  You've memorized a dozen or so books, a few memory verses, the Pledge of Allegiance, and countless songs.  You can count to twenty nine in Turkish, and can count in French and Spanish as well.  You're learning to recognize words and read, plus figuring out how to spell; yesterday you almost spelled "train" correctly. Thanks to PBS and the letters we stick on the bathtub. 

You are also off the charts, weighing in at 48 pounds and taller than plenty of kids older than you. I'm pleased about this for you and hope it continues.


Our plan is to be in Turkey this time next year.  You'll be older, wiser, and probably asking a lot of questions. I've enjoyed the last three years because we could pretty much do holidays and such however we wanted as you were none the wiser about how they "should" be.  My promise is to never belittle or grow tired of your questions.

I pray 2012 will be a great year of growth and maturity for you. That you make friends of various cultures and experience things most 3 year old American boys do not.  But always that you will continue to read with us, pray with us, and sing with us.That you grow up to be a Godly man of good character.  That your current contrariness grows into helpful skepticism and a greater curiosity about how the world works. 

I love you very much and hope you one day enjoy more letters from me than I have written thus far.

Friday, December 23, 2011

History of Christmas

I don't use my blog for article recommendations much anymore, I use my Twitter and G+ accounts instead.  However, I came across this Five Books interview with Bruce Forbes, a professor of religious studies at Morningside College in Iowa, that is worth reposting here:
http://thebrowser.com/interviews/bruce-forbes-on-christmas-history?page=1

Forbes offers his five reading suggestions on the history of Christmas, and I learned a bit in the interview that I did not know before. In America we currently have Fox News and others making Christmas and the "War on Christmas" part of a wider culture war, which examination of the historical context of the holiday makes look ridiculous. For example:
Where did the Christmas tree come from?The Christmas tree is mostly of German background, dating back to the 17th century and widespread by the 18th century. I think of Christmas as like a snowball which you roll, and which picks things up along the way. The snowball rolls very interestingly here. The German influences reach England because of the House of Hanover, so the German Christmas tree gets brought to England. Then the prints of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with a Christmas tree are published, and cause great interest in the United States. That’s how the Christmas tree becomes popular in the US.
Finally – and of course most importantly – where did gift giving come from?That’s a complicated history. In the Church we’d like to say that it has to do with the wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus, starting a gift-giving tradition. For much of Christmas history, gift-giving was more token, and sometimes was on St Nicholas’s day rather than on Christmas. But more recently – since the 1800s – it has become a great Christmas tradition. Gifts were given in different ways over time. Early on it was in a stocking, then it was under a small Christmas tree on a table. Now, of course, the Christmas tree has gotten bigger and is on the floor. And the gifts have grown and grown. 
Read the whole thing.  The Christmas we celebrate today, whether the modern consumer-driven shopping one, or the "Here comes Santa Claus" one, or the "it's all about Jesus' birth and gift-giving" one-- all would have been foreign concepts to most societies through the ages.

This leads me to a piece I read by Jim Wallis this week that I agreed with, reposted over at Jesus Creed. Wallis is attacking Fox News' "defense" of Christmas in the culture war.  But even Wallis seems to have a higher view of Christmas represents than what history does.

My conclusion: Most Americans are unaware of how they have adopted a version of the holiday that is a very modern, not ancient, creation.  Which leads me to my last point:  Here's a thoughtful and humorous post by a Türk who offers 10 Reasons Why Turkey Should Not Celebrate Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book Review (Kindle Single edition) Launching the Innovation Renaissance - Alex Tabarrok

Launching the Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast by Alex Tabarrok. What do Dean Baker (of the Progressive left) and Alex Tabarrok (of the Libertarian right) have in common?  Both want to change the patent system in the U.S. to eliminate needless monopolies and foster more innovation. Both want to reform our visa system to allow more high-skilled workers in to end protectionism for the elites.

Tabarrok's Single has received bipartisan praise and the only major criticism seems to be that the book is too short-- I agree. My other criticism would be that he didn't distribute it for free, as Baker did his.  The George Mason economist and Principles textbook co-author begins his book by focusing on problems with the U.S. patent system. How instead of creating incentives for innovation, our patent maze creates incentives for rent-seeking behavior.  Billions of dollars are wasted in legal battles as firms like Google try to buy up patents that they could be sued over later if they innovate in an area that some patent troll has broadly staked a claim on.  These wasted resources hurt our productivity growth.

Immigration reform is also a necessity, the U.S. allows in a ridiculously low number of high-skilled immigrants.  Tabarrok doesn't focus as much as Baker does on how this is equivalent to trade protectionism for high-skilled workers, but shows how this is hurting U.S. productivity growth.

Education is another of Tabarrok's targets, famously showing how college is oversold and how the U.S. is turning out only as many, if not fewer, math and technology graduates as it did 25 years ago, even though demand for these positions has soared. The heavily-subsidized U.S. education system is turning out too many workers in fields like English and Psychology for which there are few jobs available. These graduates end up taking lower-skilled jobs that they did not need their degrees for, hence wasting both their own and taxpayer dollars. Tabarrok would like to see better teachers at the secondary level and takes on the teacher unions that oppose any type of merit pay system and make it notoriously difficult to fire even teachers with criminal offenses.

The problems he points out are clear-cut, backed up by plenty of evidence, and the solutions he gives are relatively straight-forward and often peer-reviewed.  You can read it in one sitting, and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thoughts on Higher Education (Part 1)

Since I have just finished a career stop in teaching at the undergraduate level, I may occasionally post some random thoughts of what I've learned about education.
Last night's commencement speaker, Dr. John Marshall, said something to students that I thought was profound enough to record. He defined education as an "external discipline" that you accept in order to bring about internal discipline. He said "You'll know you are educated when you are harder on yourself than your teachers ever thought about being on you."  I thought that was a pretty good description of being educated, it definitely works for me.

The previous fall semester started with a faculty seminar led by Dr. David Dockery of Union University. He said something I'll probably never forget: "If you haven't changed your mind about something in the last ten years then you have no business teaching."  I often wonder if I am personally too easily swayed by new ideas or the exact opposite-- too set in my ways and current beliefs. I love those who challenge me and change my mind about things. But I have contempt for those who believe differently than I do if I don't feel they've studied the subject matter enough, or as much as I have.

The two highlighted thoughts above are ones I will carry with me for a long time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Did Romney Preach and Teach?

Mitt Romney was Bishop and later Stake President of a Boston area Mormon temple for 15 years and yet I don't see the media asking much of what he believes, as conservatives did with Jeremiah Wright in 2008, even though Wright was only Obama's pastor and not running for office himself. This may be because, unlike Wright, Romney in his Bishop role may not have publicly preached much as that role is generally left to members. But it's very conceivable and highly probable that before Romney was elevated to Bishop that he preached sermons. What Romney preached would reveal important character traits. His sermons would reveal his beliefs, values, and what, if any, political issues he considered relevant enough to preach to his congregation about.  The only snippets we have of Romney's pastoral role (Romney called himself a "pastor" for the first time in one Iowa debate) come from a few articles which mention that he was a diplomatic team-builder whose biggest controversial stand was counseling women out of having abortions, something that helps his standing with conservatives since he has famously flip-flopped on this issue multiple times.

Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary and a very evangelical conservative, wrote this blog post that seems to defend Romney from attacks about his religion--Mormonism:
"Furthermore, we must be honest and acknowledge that there are non-Christians or non-evangelicals who share far more of our worldview and policy concerns than some others who identify as Christians. The stewardship of our vote demands that we support those candidates who most clearly and consistently share our worldview and combine these commitments with the competence to serve both faithfully and well."

However, I find Mohler's argument problematic in Romney's case because Romney was not just some casual congregant at a Mormon church, he was an ordained Mormon Elder, Bishop, and Stake President-- high-ranking offices for which he was compensated, and offices that gave him the responsibility to defend doctrine in direct conflict with the Christian worldview.  A Stake President, according to the Church Handbook:

1. He is the presiding high priest,
2. He is a common judge.
3. He directs the Church welfare program and operations.
4. He oversees finances, records, reports, and properties.


The first role described by the Handbook:
"Members of the stake presidency are teachers. They teach the gospel in meetings, classes, and interviews. They also bear their testimonies often...They ensure that teaching is effective and doctrinally correct.

So, Romney's beliefs would have come out in his teachings, if not sermons per se.  Romney was baptized in a Mormon temple and swore a blood oath to protect the church and keep its secrets.  As Bishop, he would have had the role of keeping his congregants from questioning that doctrine and leaving to join other faiths, which Mormons officially see as "apostate" (see the Church Handbook of Instructions here).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is very strict about its core beliefs, and Romney could not have held his  positions unless he agreed wholeheartedly to uphold LDS doctrine.  This matters because not only is core LDS doctrine entirely in conflict with orthodox Christianity, it requires one to accept various logical contradictions and tenets that contradict scientific and historical evidence. Furthermore, LDS bishops are given strict guidelines of how to deal with people who are questioning the Mormon faith or considering converting to another faith-- and these guidelines, such as excommunication, may look harsh to outsiders.  It is not without good historical, philosophical, and biblical reasons that Mormonism is labeled a cult universally by the Catholic church and all protestant denominations.

Jim Spencer, a former Mormon elder turned Christian apologist writes in his book Beyond Mormonism of what it is like to accept the logical contradictions of Mormonism and the shunning that occurs when one begins to question the church or ultimately leave, as he did.  He describes the phenomenon associated with all cults of chucking one's brain at the door as "snapping."  Spencer and other converts claim that all practicing Mormons suffer from this same well-documented psychological phenomenon, and I believe this is relevant to examine in a presidential candidate.

One question I would ask journalists following the campaign is how did Romney treat those in his church who were questioning Mormon doctrine and history?  Did he treat them similarly to how he treated Brett Baier of Fox News when he brought up various contradictions in Romney's statements over the years?  Or was Romney the sort of open-minded, highly-educated intellectual that he portrays during the debates?  His record as Bishop and Stake President would be helpful in this regard.

So far, the press has not openly discussed the doctrines Romney would have taught and expected his church members to believe as a Mormon pastor, which is odd because Jeremiah Wright's church's doctrinal statement was a major campaign issue in 2008, and Obama was pressured to disavow his membership.

Mormons maintain that all LDS presidents are infallible prophets.  Joseph Smith and Brigham Young's prophecies are considered to be correct and infallible, or else they would be false prophets.  This includes examples such as Smith's claims that men dressed as Quakers live on the moon, and Young's claim that men also live on the sun (Journal of Discourses 13:271-2).  It requires belief in the Book of Mormon's teaching of various warring ancient tribes living in the Americas, who were visited by Jesus, for which there is no archaeological evidence.

The LDS' religion is also very America-centric.  Romney would have taught his church that Elohim chose to re-establish his "lost" church in America via Joseph Smith, and that Jesus' next coming would be to a small town in Missouri, not Israel or anywhere else.  This has implications for how Romney looks at the rest of the world and conducts foreign policy.

There are other problems that I believe deserve scrutiny. Romney was a Mormon missionary in Europe from 1966 to 1968, achieving the highest possible position as a missionary. This was before the Book of Mormon was edited (in 1978) in order to allow African-Americans to hold Elder positions (they were denied such authority until then) after the LDS President received a "revelation" from God.  This means Romney had to support and promote the official 1966 LDS position-- that blacks were spiritually inferior to whites. While Ron Paul gets criticized for some racist writing attributed to him in the early 1980s, Romney has not faced any such criticism for swearing to promote officially LDS doctrine that was overtly racist.

Romney has had to teach other official doctrine, such as Jesus and Satan being spirit-brothers (along with everyone reading this) from the same father --Elohim-- and that man's sin is not atoned for by Jesus' blood alone, but can be atoned for by man's own blood (Journal of Discourses 4:53-54).

As a Christian myself, I find the lack of questions in regards to Romney's faith curious and problematic. I find evangelicals such as Al Mohler claiming that Romney shares a Christian worldview highly problematic given how contrary Mormonism is to the Christian worldview. If he were a Muslim, would there not be more scrutiny, even if he was a pro-life, pro-Israel Muslim?

If you do not believe a person's worldview is relevant to his effective leadership, then none of the above should trouble you.  But I believe a person's worldview is at the core of his decision-making process.  Romney hasn't answered key questions about his worldview, and I think it's high time we start pressing him--and ourselves--with those questions.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Book Review (#35 of 2011) Frederick Taylor - The Principles of Scientific Management

Since I've been reading seminal works this year, I decided to read this 1911 classic when it was posted on Project Gutenberg a while back. Taylor is credited as the father of scientific management as a field and this work is cited in Principles of Management classes like Smith's Wealth of Nations is in a Principles of Economics class.  It's another example of a book that is oft cited but rarely assigned to students to read-- I recall reading only excerpts from it in several Management classes as an undergrad, but the book is short enough to be fairly easily required reading.

Consider this part of the Introduction, written 100 years ago, after Pres. Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech urging conservation of national resources:
"We can see our forests vanishing, our water-powers going to waste, our soil being carried by floods into the sea; and the end of our coal and our iron is in sight. But our larger wastes of human effort, which go on every day through such of our acts as are blundering, ill-directed, or inefficient, and which Mr. Roosevelt refers to as a, lack of "national efficiency," are less visible, less tangible, and are but vaguely appreciated...As yet there has been no public agitation for "greater national efficiency," no meetings have been called to consider how this is to be brought about. And still there are signs that the need for greater efficiency is widely felt."
Taylor is an engineer who sounds like a supply-side economist.  Taylor's cause is fundamentally a Progressivist one, but he stands in opposition to Marxist elements agitating around him who are pitting the worker against the owner. Taylor is promoting a management style that requires heavily-involved owners and managers to increase the efficiency of the workers, the profitability of the businesses, and the wages of the workers.
"The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee."
This is a nationalist cause for Taylor-- maximum productivity means maximum standard of living for Americans.

"It is no single element, but rather this whole combination, that constitutes scientific management, which may be summarized as:  Science, not rule of thumb.  Harmony, not discord.  Cooperation, not individualism.  Maximum output, in place of restricted output.  The development of each man to his greatest efficiency and prosperity."


Taylor addresses the issue of shirking, or "soldiering" in his parlance, which he sees as widespread and contrary to the American spirit as demonstrated when Americans compete hard in sports on weekends.  This is fundamentally a problem of incentives-- if I'm paid by the day then I have no incentive to work quickly, but rather to prolong the number of days it takes to complete a job. Several examples of this in piece work is given, including the classic 1903 paper "Shop Management" on the Midvale Machine Shop.

Taylor confronts the following thinking that promote such shirking and inefficiency:

First. The fallacy, which has from time immemorial been almost universal among workmen, that a material increase in the output of each man or each machine in the trade would result in the end in throwing a large number of men out of work.
Second. The defective systems of management which are in common use, and which make it necessary for each workman to soldier, or work slowly, in order that he may protect his own best interests.
Third. The inefficient rule-of-thumb methods, which are still almost universal in all trades, and in practicing which our workmen waste a large part of their effort.
Scientific management is more than properly aligning incentives, like just paying someone for output rather than a flat daily rate. It requires investment in scientists who will first carefully observe the work being done and determine the most efficient way to do it. What's the proper size of the shovel? What's the maximum number of repetitions until a job is finished?  How far and how fast should the worker walk?  How often and for how long should his breaks be?  What is the "One Best Way" to do the job? The scientist becomes a micromanager, training workers in new ways of doing things in order to maximize productivity with the incentive dangled that the worker will receive higher pay for doing it this way.  

The example Taylor gives is from his time at Bethlehem Steel with workers shoveling pig iron. Here's a summary: 
"We found that this gang were loading on the average about 12 and a half long tons per man per day. We were surprised to find, after studying the matter, that a first-class pig-iron handler ought to handle between 47, and 48 long tons per day, instead of 12 and a half tons. This task seemed to us so very large that we were obliged to go over our work several times before we were absolutely sure that we were right. Once we were sure, however, that 47 tons was a proper day's work for a first-class pig-iron handler, the task which faced us as managers under the modern scientific plan was clearly before us. It was our duty to see that the 80,000 tons of pig iron was loaded on to the cars at the rate of 47 tons per man per day, in place of 12 and a half tons, at which rate the work was then being done. And it was further our duty to see that this work was done without bringing on a strike among the men, without any quarrel with the men, and to see that the men were happier and better contented when loading at the new rate of 47 tons than they were when loading at the old rate of 12 and a half tons." 
(Note: Taylor enlisted famed mathematician Carl G. Barth in his efforts.)  Taylor and his crew succeeded in achieving the 376% increase in productivity.  Workers went from earning the standard $1.15 a day to $1.85 a day, a 38% increase in their wage that put them well above what competing firms offered. Interestingly, when someone from another firm came and promised workers an even higher wage the Bethlehem management gave them its blessing to leave.  The workers came back to Bethlehem shortly thereafter because they found the other company's management always found ways to keep them from being productive to earn the higher promised wage. Other examples are given.  

Taylor's system requires owners to investment in scientific managers, and requires scientific managers to invest heavily in the workers, something with high up-front costs. Floor managers need not be highly educated engineers, only trained in how to use a slide-rule, which is sort of the 1900s equivalent of a scientific calculator.  

Wikipedia records Taylor's contribution to management thought and engineering, both here and places like Lenin's Soviet Union. I wouldn't hesitate to require this book in either a Principles of Management or Managerial Economics course.

The practicalities of Taylor's recommendations are questionable, and Wikipedia records that Bethlehem didn't implement all of his suggestions or methods.  But it's easy to see how the field of Management grew out of his work.  The book reminded me of the last time I worked on an assembly line and the plant had what I called the "Kaizen Team" who were people in white coats and clipboards monitoring our processes and looking for any ways they could improve efficiency.  The workers resented the team and suffered from Taylor's fallacy #1 (above) of assuming improved efficiency meant permanently eliminating their jobs (in some cases the workers were correct, however). I doubt many on the Kaizen Team had read Taylor in the original, though.  

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Aspiring Young Minds

Cleaning out some old stuff from my parents' house, I ran across this memory.  It's an early one where I became somewhat skeptical and cynical of education.

The left hand side is the blue "1st Prize" ribbon I won at my 5th grade science fair, qualifying me for an entry into the Fayette County (KY) science fair.  My dad is a civil engineer specializing in things like water and environmental hazards. He put together an experiment in which we looked at how various levels of oil contamination kill fish.  I remember a particularly long Saturday at his office lab where we measured precise amounts of water and oil to put into probably five separate containers. I remember the annoyance of having to tare the scale and to get the water amounts absolutely equal in weight with a medicine dropper. One container had no oil, and the others contained gradually increasing amounts.  We placed equal amounts of his lab minnows (of which there were probably thousands in his lab) in each container. Over the next several days or weeks, I measured the survival/death rates of the fish.  

I don't remember if we calculated a regression equation for the relationship between oil contamination and fish casualties, but we probably plotted some graphs.  My dad made sure it was high quality.  

The red ribbon on the right is the "Participant" ribbon from the county science fair. I remember having to spend another even longer Saturday near the Civic Center downtown as judges went through hundreds of projects.  I never met the judges, I think perhaps we were required to leave while judging occurred. When we returned to the hall in the evening, I remember some of my classmates getting prize ribbons but mine had this blank red ribbon on it and a "disqualified" remark. Disappointment.  One judge was at least kind enough to write me a note-- he said my project was good but killing something was against the rules, so I had to be disqualified (and should have been disqualified at the school level as well, but apparently my teacher and school judges didn't know the rules. We certainly didn't know there was such a rule.). 

You'll notice that my name is even spelled wrong on the certificate, adding insult to injury. 

I was slightly confused-- why was it real science and perfectly okay when my dad runs these kinds of tests all the time in his lab, but not real science when 5th graders do it?  (I seem to remember later dissecting frogs and pigs in school, am I to suppose that they died a natural death or something?)  The irony that the event was sponsored by the local water company didn't hit me until now.  

I have now trashed the items in the picture, but they can live on here for posterity, and maybe be useful for when Elias is in the 5th grade and runs into such barriers and setbacks to his intellectual curiosity.  I wonder what age he'll be when I finally tell him "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."  My guess is that I was in the 5th grade when my dad told me that.